Hot dogs, screaming fans and the thrill of a big win will never go out of style, but modern fans are expecting more than the basics when they head to a game. Across the country — and around the world — new stadiums are being built to serve the needs of tech-savvy fans, incorporating miles of powerful fiber-optic cables, Wi-Fi access points and plenty more modern features into their designs.
Part of the push for more connected stadiums comes from decreasing attendance numbers at sporting events. Between pricey tickets, pricier food, parking nightmares and long lines — not to mention increased accessibility to viewing countless games online — many fans have chosen to stay home to root on their favorite teams. According to a 1998 ESPN poll, 54% of people said they would rather attend a game than watch at home. In 2011, the number plummeted to 29%, with more and more people opting to skip the stadium.
The challenge for stadiums then becomes making the game more than just a game. Somehow, stadiums need to offer some of the same comforts and technology that fans can use in the comfort of their own homes.
Barclays Center, which plays host to the Brooklyn Nets and opened in 2012, has answered the call with several technological advances allowing guests to practically never leave the comfort of their seats. Wi-Fi connects an average of 5,000 fans per event, helping the stadium keep up with food orders placed from fans’ seats. Fans can even tap into cameras showing the lines at restrooms, making them less likely to miss a great play. And if something significant does happen, anyone can tap into that same Wi-Fi to watch instant replays.
Other stadiums around the country are taking notes from the technological success of places like Barclays Center. Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver boasts 24/7 Wi-Fi, which allows fans in the stadium and tailgaters to connect easily, as does Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots play.
The San Francisco 49ers, Patriots, Denver Broncos and several others also have mobile apps allowing visitors to more easily find parking, grab exclusive coupons and promotions for use inside the stadium, and get traffic information for a quick trip home.
The social media factor
Aside from the cool features like peeking at restroom lines and ordering food from your seat, the upgrade in connectivity at many stadiums also allows visitors and fans to share their experiences on social media. Uploads to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter not only let friends and family know about the game, it gives the stadium free exposure as a fun spot. Since younger fans are more likely to leave a game early if they can’t connect to Wi-Fi, the ability to get online has clearly become an important piece of the fan experience.
With all the technological upgrades happening at stadiums across the country, Wi-Fi and connectivity may put a stop to the drastic fall in ticket sales. If fans know they can share their experience, sit in a comfy seat (and then upgrade to an even better one), check lines for food and bathrooms, and order souvenirs, beverages and food to their seat, the difference between a comfy chair at home and one at a stadium doesn’t seem quite so stark.
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